This is the story of the events from our 2015 cruise, and the fun and adventures we had. It is pretty long, but I wanted to get this all down so we never forget the adventures we had.
The drive to New Orleans port where we were to board our Carnival Cruise Ship, the Elation, went well. We left on time from Pensacola and no delays driving to NOLA. We met our friend, Mocha, at his apartments and he drove us to the port. After a quick snack at the Riverwalk with him it was to board the ship!
We were all so excited. The embarkation process took about an hour and before we knew it we were standing inside the six-story atrium of the Elation. Vacation had officially started. It was crowded and you could feel the buzz of excitement from all the passengers.
We just did the cheapest cabin so it was pretty small. There was very little floor space to move around but it had a rollout cot and a king-size bed, a bathroom, a TV, 2 closets and a small dresser so it worked just fine for us. After living in an RV and traveling in the Ark the tight quarters did not phase us much. All was good.
We spent the rest of the day settling into cruise life and exploring the ship. The dinner was great. Afterwards Nora got to see her first towel animal that the housekeeping staff places during their turn-down service and it really tickled her.
Nora also had her first Camp Carnival event that evening. Camp Carnival is basically the childcare and activities program the ship provides for free. The Camp Carnival staff there is great and the program makes for a great time for both parents and children. They even did a Build-a-Bear Workshop during the cruise where Nora brought Scarlet to life.
At first she was very shy and reluctant, almost scared to go into the welcome party. Which after talking to her, we found out she actually was scared. But not of the kids or being left there, but the Carnival Mascot was her issue. She does not like costumed characters! She made a few friends that evening that she would keep throughout the cruise.
We love Nora but sometimes it is nice to be a couple without their child for a few hours. During this free time Sharon and I sat at the Atrium bar and listened to Carlos, the guitarist, play and sing. He was great and it felt so good to just relax with nowhere to be or nothing to do.
Earlier that day while checking in at Camp Carnival we were told that Carlos did a great version of the song, “Do You Want To Build a Snowman”, from the movie Frozen. So while at the bar we asked if the next day when we brought Nora to the bar when he was on stage if he would sing it.
That night we were awakened by the ship rocking us around. We got a little worried about getting seasick so we popped some Dramamine. Nora was out like a light and never woke up. I guess when you first enter the Gulf from the six hour ride down the Mississippi is notoriously a rough patch. We made it through without feeling nauseous thankfully.
The following day was our first full day on the ship and it would be spent at sea. It was warm and sunny. We enjoyed a great breakfast on an outdoor deck in the aft (rear) of the sea with an 180º view of the beautiful blue and calm Gulf of Mexico waters.
The time had come that Carlos would be on stage that day, so we swung by the bar. When he saw us he got on the microphone and announced, “This song is dedicated to little Nora.” She got slightly embarrassed but also amazed he said her name. He then proceeded to belt out a fantastic rendition of the song, complete with both the female section and the male section of the song. I could not believe a guy with such a strong male singing voice could hit such a high woman’s tone like he did. He made our day.
The day seemed to pass in an instant and once again was time for the dinner feeding. It was formal night so we made sure we got a family picture taken by one of the numerous photographers set up on the Promenade deck. Nora did another evening at Camp Carnival and we just hung out at the Atrium bar to listen to Carlos some more.
We got up very early because we were scheduled to debark the ship in Cozumel at 8 a.m. Nora popped right up, just as excited as could be to explore Mexico.
We were the second in line to get off. We finally checked off the ship. Just as we started walking, we were stopped by a custom’s officer and her dog. The dog smelled the banana we had stashed in case we got hungry during the adventure. She confiscated it. Fortunately Nora’s cheese sandwich made it through undetected. We then began a trek through a large duty-free store where they were offering samples of every kind of Tequila. I started to stop for one but Sharon reminded me it was only 8:00 am and we had a lot of things we wanted to see. It is very hard for me to pass up free tequila! The store was long and very crowded and took quite a bit to emerge out the other end.
After we got out, and while passing through an expansive outdoor market Nora saw a flower and wanted a picture of it. I went to grab my iPhone to oblige, however, it was not where I packed it. I frantically looked through my backpack to find it. I just knew I packed it. It was going to be the only digital camera we had to use. I left my big camera at home in lieu of using cell phone cameras and an old antique black and white film camera my in-laws gave me for Christmas.
When I knew for sure it was not in there I began my sprint back to the ship. Whatever head start we had, had now evaporated. It did only take me about 10 minutes to get on and back off, but I still did not locate my phone. I did grab Sharon’s instead so all was not lost. I would just deal with my phone issue later.
The first transportation we needed was a cab to the Cozumel downtown boat ferry terminal. It took about 6 minutes or so. We knew even minutes at this point could be the difference of making it back to the ship or being left behind. We luckily made it to the terminal just a few minutes before the 9 a.m. ferry departed, another was not until 10 a.m. which would have killed our schedule.
When we were looking for the ferry terminal to Playa Del Carmen, I joked with Sharon by saying “just look for the clue box.” If you do not know, that is a reference to one of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race. Little did I know we would be in what felt like an actual episode for the rest of the day.
The ride over was about 45 minutes. Nora got to see flying fish finally as I had promised she would see them this trip on the ship at some point. She calls them now “fairy fish” because of the way they look flying across the water.
We got off the boat and it was almost 10:00 a.m. The last boat that leaves to Cozumel is at 3:00 p.m. That would give us 1 hour and 30 minutes to get back to the ship before the 4:30 p.m. deadline.
We hurried our way to the next “checkpoint” which was to board a Collectivo for Tulum. We were not sure where to catch them but a few locals helped us as we walked the streets of Playa Del Carmen.
A Collectivo is a form of public transportation consisting of a small, white minivan packed with seating for accommodating up to 12 people, which seemed to be pushed to 15 by the locals. And the Collectivos make frequent stops so they are not the fastest, but always available.
We could have taken a bus but it would have blown our budget for this leg of the trip. And I am not sure, because of the bus schedule, if we would have gotten there any sooner anyhow.
We were dropped off at the entrance to the Tulum ruins around 11:00 a.m. In my calculations we were right on schedule. But I did not plan on the long walk to the ruins, so we opted to take the train/shuttle. And had I not been barefoot and the road on gravel I might have walked it to save money.
The reason I was barefoot is that I purchased new flip-flops right before the trip and the weather had been so cold at home I did not get a chance to break them in. And the top straps had worn large blisters on both feet. Nora put her tinker bell and Dora band-aids on them during the Collectivo ride but they did not help me walk any easier. Oh well I thought, “I walk barefoot most of the time anyway.”
So after walking past numerous people trying to sell us every little trinket imaginable, and the guys with painted iguanas to get your photo taken with, we made it to the train trolley for the two-mile road to the ruins. At least it was cheap, and saved us time as well. We even got to share a frozen coconut, and granola bar on the ride.
Now it was 11:30 a.m. and I wanted to be snorkeling by 1:00 p.m. This gave us 30 minutes or so at the ruins before we had to get back on the shuttle and find a cab to drive us to the Yal-Ku snorkeling lagoon.
One of the things Nora most anticipated on this adventure was looking for crystals in the ruins. She got the idea because she watched a documentary on the Mayans crystal skull. Nora has always loved rocks, especially shiny ones.
Before we left on the cruise I had gone to Michael’s and bought a bag of crystals that I could bury in the beach sand at the base of the cliffs on which the ruins sat. So that was our goal for this leg of the journey.
I climbed barefoot up and down the ruins stairs with a heavily loaded backpack and Nora on my shoulders in almost 90 degree, sun-blazing heat. We stopped occasional to snap a few photos but I was starting to wear down a bit, and we still had the 50 or so staircase down to the beach to do.
Once down I had Sharon distract Nora while went to the cliff edge and hid the crystals. I called for Nora to come help me dig. I started in areas where I had not put any and she started to get discouraged. I told her that I see a spot that looks like where they might be. She went over and was so elated to find a light blue crystal appears in her hands as the sand sifted away!
She then dug furiously until her bounty yielded 20 stones. Which I told her was the limit allowed by law. She packed them into her little, princess fanny-pack and we rushed up the stairs and back through the ruins to the shuttle. Surprisingly despite the gravel paths and the rough limestone steps my feet felt just fine.
That whole experience searching for 20 crystals felt a lot like an Amazing Race Speed Bump.
The ruins themselves were really cool, and very picturesque against the vibrant turquoise waters of the seas that met up with an electric blue sky dotted with small, bright white, puffy clouds. The crumbling limestone ruins are covered with iguanas of all sizes. Nora loved seeing them, but if you approached a little too close they would start bobbing their heads as a warning so we kept our distance.
Of course I wish we had more time to explore and learn about the ruins of Tulum, but we were on a snorkel mission.
Finding a cab was easy back at the main entrance area. It was more expensive than the Collectivos by far, but so much faster and time was more important at this point. I was not coming all this way after researching for hours, and day dreaming instead of working, of how awesome it was going to be to snorkel the clear lagoon waters, only to give up and head back to the ship.
The road to the lagoon was off the beaten path for sure. It was very slow going due to huge speed bumps every hundred feet or so. I got worried now, as it was about 1:30 p.m. already and we were still not at the lagoon.
Due to the remoteness of the lagoon from any major hotels or shopping areas, no transportation would be found, and the realization hit me that we might get stranded there. So I asked the cab driver if he would wait for us, and then take us back to the boat ferry at Playa Del Carmen.
He agreed, and we quickly got on our snorkel gear. The lagoon was beautiful and clear. I could see colorful fish darting around the limestone and coral formations. As we started to get in we noticed something else we left in the room, Nora’s life jacket. This was a major fail on my part. But we were determined to snorkel with her. I got into the water and tried to place her on my back, but that did not work. Finally Sharon took her to a spot she could stand and look around and told me to go snorkel and have fun.
I swam around the whole lagoon just exploring the trench like gaps created from eroded limestone. Schools of various tangs and damsels were all over. I saw parrotfish and a few angelfish as well. It was really fun. There was so much to explore. But as with everything on that day, it was too short. It was getting late and we had to get going back.
We climbed out and dryed off. We got back in the cab around 2:15 p.m. I thought we could make it but it would be close. However once I saw how long it took to get back to the highway, I was worried I was terribly wrong. When I knew for sure that going at the current pace the taxi driver was driving, we were not going to make it. I told him our problem and he increased his speed almost double. We were flying down the highway now. We hit some traffic and some slow cars so I was still not sure we would make it. I tried to go by road signs on how far it was still so I could gauge how we were doing. I never really knew for sure, I just knew it would be close.
And at 2:53 p.m. the cab stopped and told us the direction to go through the open-air market to the terminal. We paid him and I scooped up Nora, and took off barefoot once again, running through the streets. The vendors and shoppers could tell we were looking for something and they figured it was the ferry terminal by the way we were rushing. People pointed and shouted to us directions. At one point I recall a vendor yelling “Don’t worry, you make it!” I was still not confident until we got to the counter and bought our tickets around 2:59 p.m.
With no time to spare we boarded the ferry and set off for Cozumel. The ride over, if you recall, took about 20 minutes. This time the water was rougher and much slower going. It took about 45 minutes. Still we knew if we could get a cab quickly when we got off we would be fine. Nora ate half her sandwich on the Collectivo so she was hungry and had the other half to quell her hunger.
On the ferry we met some guys from Charleston, West Virginia. Having lived there for several years we had some mutual friends and chatted with them most of the ride.
Once off the ferry we counted our money. We had budgeted a certain amount and were determined to stick to it by leaving credit and debit cards on the ship and only take that amount in cash with us. When I had paid the taxi driver earlier I included a tip, but Sharon did not know that, so she tipped him also. I had counted on that money to get our cab from the ferry back to the ship’s port. We had done so well, only to be short on money. We did not know what we were going to do. It was about 3 miles or more back and being about 4:00 p.m. now we did not have the time to do it. Plus, we had not eaten anything and were getting irritable. That walk might have caused a little bit of “tension” between Sharon and I and being married for almost 10 years I knew what I had to do. I sucked up my pride and asked the guys we met earlier if they we had 3 dollars we could have. They happily gave it to us. We were going to make it. But until I actually got aboard the ship I was skeptical.
In fact we did make it with about 15 minutes left to casually stroll through the market, through the duty free store, through customs, and check back onto the ship. Alhough to my dismay, there were no longer handing out free tequila. So we headed straight to the ship’s buffet. We were starving.
I barely remember that evening. I am pretty sure we ate dinner in the dining room, dropped Nora off, sat motionless drinking a glass of wine, watching Carlos play, picking up Nora, and going straight to bed.
The next morning was our Progreso, Mexico port stop. I had also researched and researched on what to do while there just like I did the Cozumel stop. I had gone so far as to virtually walk the streets of Progreso using Goggle street view. I planned on us renting bikes, riding a few miles to El Corchito to swim and snorkel, then climb the lighthouse, go to the beach for lunch, get a massage and head back to the ship. In light of the previous day’s stressful excursion, I opted to just walk around the town and the beach, find a place to have lunch, and just relax. And that is just how it went.
When you first get off the pier bus, and walk toward the beach in Progreso, you get bombarded by locals trying to sell their goods. And the beach itself is even worse. It gets to be overwhelming. I repeatedly said “no, gracias.” At one point, while sitting on the beach trying to enjoy the scenery and a snack, another vendor came up to us and Nora, as polite as she could, held up her little hand and told him in a sweet voice, “No, gracias.” For some reason it cracked me up seeing her act like she really knew what she was doing. As if she had been traveling in Mexico her whole life.
The highlight of the day was when we stopped at Maya Ka restaurant. It was a very nicely landscaped and Mayan-styled, open-air restaurant right across from the beach. Complete with rustic pergolas set up where Sharon got a $15 massage. The place even had kiddie and adult pools to swim in. Perfect for Nora who had been bugging us to go swimming. To top it off, I was able to sit poolside with a Corona.
Life was good.
When Nora first got into the pool, I asked her if how the water was. She very quickly and nonchalantly answered “muy bien.” I just laughed. I know I did not teach her that phrase. I suppose she could have gotten it from the cartoon “Dora the Explorer.” And again she spoke Spanish a little later when I asked if she could swim all the way to the other end. She just replied “si.” And started swimming.
I was a little worried I just dipped my child ito a large container of Mexican tainted water, but it was so clear I am pretty sure it had been chlorinated. Some little swimming bugs were managing to live in it so that bothered me a little, but Nora affectionately called them “Mexican Bug Fish” and she like snorkeling with them.
We did some more shopping but after a while the haggling was just too much for me. We bought a magnet, a shot glass, Nora some great shoes, a hammock chair, and the all-important postcard to take back to school for Nora’s classroom.
One thing I desperately wanted to do in Mexico was photograph a lost shoe with my antique camera. We walked many back streets looking but never saw one. Amazing to me. It seemed ripe for a shoe sighting.
This time we made it back on the ship almost an hour early. We sat up on the pool deck overlooking Progreso and the sun going down as Nora swam more. It was another fun and memorable day in Mexico.
One thing of note in Progreso is that the cruise ships dock at the end of a five-mile pier where you must then travel on a bus down it to the town. Along our ride down the pier over the clear blue water Nora spotted a sea turtle swimming below and got such a thrill out it. That became my inspiration for her special gift I gave her that night.
Along with learning about the crystal skulls on a documentary, Nora also watched one with me about the Russian Amber room that it was stolen by the Nazis during WWII and has never been recovered. The beauty of the amber and the mystery of it not being found intrigued her to no end. So I told her that Mexico is a good place to get amber. From that, her little imagination came up with a fictitious amber that she wanted to discover. She wanted to find “Fire Amber, the rarest of all ambers” she said.
She was so busy that day she actually forgot all about the Fire Amber. But I didn’t.
At dinner I gave her a silver turtle charm with the shell made of fire opal, which I told her it was Fire Amber. I had found it earlier in one of the shops when her and Sharon were looking in another shop. She loved it. I hope it will always be something special to her to remember our awesome adventures in Mexico.
Nothing much worth mentioning happened during the next day at sea. Nora swam for hours with some friends from Camp Carnival. But the afternoon had some memorable moments.
The family got to hit tea-time, which is almost a hidden gathering which features many teas, and little snacks and desserts featuring macaroons.
I did have some fun when the winds kicked up to tropical storm strength during the voyage back to New Orleans. The winds got to at least 46 mph according to my hand held wind meter. Doesn’t everyone have one of those?
Shortly after getting back into the cabin from measuring the winds, the captain of the ship spoke to the ship over the intercom system. He is an Italian and spoke with a very thick accent. So thick, and so stereotypical, that it seemed like someone was playing a joke. I was laughing through the whole announcement. Here is an attempt to recreate part of the message. “This is the capitain a speakin to you. We are a encountering roughada seas. The wessel willa be movin arounda alotta. You needa to bea carefulla when movinga about da wessel. Ita be moving up and it bea moving down. Up and den a downa.” I joked to Sharon, “Is Count Dracula our captain?”
Even the comic we saw that night in the comedy club picked up on it and did a spoof on the captain’s message. The captain’s announcement really was something I wish I could have recorded.
That night in Camp Carnival they had a farewell party and made colorful t-shirts, which each of them signed their names on as a souvenir. She was so sad leaving the camp that night and the next morning. I too felt the post-cruise blues as we debarked to a cold and dreary day in New Orleans after spending 4 days in the warm Caribbean sun.
Surprisingly, the best way I found out to cure those blues is to book another cruise. We will be departing in early December to spend my birthday and celebrate Sharon and I’s 10th wedding anniversary. Hopefully we will have as good of a time as we did this time!